A Central Market jeweller has denied that he had any knowledge or suspicion that criminal gang had used his business to launder money.
Giving his closing statement towards the end of a five-day trial, Darius James Pearce (48) told the Royal Court that he was simply a businessman “trying to earn pennies” and not a willing participant in a criminal attempt to send money from Jersey to the UK.
He said that his involvement “seems like something out of a movie to me."
Representing himself, Mr Pearce told the two Jurats who will decide his fate that he “simply did not have his suspicions aroused” when cash was delivered to his shop on three occasions in 2019.
“If I had I would have alerted the authorities, which I have in the past, which led to a number of prosecutions,” he said. “The Jurats are being asked to find me guilty by tenuous association.
“Why would I do this, as the Crown alleges? I don’t need the money; I lead a simple life. Each month, I collect gold from London and silver from Guernsey and bring it back to Jersey. I will sell it and buy more bullion. I have many customers and I even have a waiting list of people because demand is so high."
Pictured: Darius Pearce says that he encouraged customers to pick up gold for themselves that he had purchased for them from London dealers because of a long-running dispute he had with Jersey Customs over GST.
He continued: “In this trial, there has been no evidence presented that I was aware that the members of the syndicate were connected to each other.
”Over the 25-month period that this trial covers, the money sent to London to purchase gold would have resulted in an average gross profit for me of just £300 a month. This is hardly a sum to get excited over and certainly not one worth jeopardising a successful business for.
“The police say that I didn’t keep proper records of transactions but that is only by their definition. All I did was not keep records in the way that would make their lives easier. But I am not concerned with their business, only mine.”
Mr Pearce added that the only reason he had arranged for gold to be collected in London by customers - who included members of the criminal syndicate - was because of an ongoing dispute with Jersey Customs on whether GST should be paid on investment gold.
“If you understand why I have been doing what I have been doing, then many of the questions raised by the Crown will have been answered,” he said.
Summing up the prosecution case yesterday, Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit told the Court that Mr Pearce was a knowing participant in a sophisticated criminal scheme to send money from Jersey to the UK.
That money, it is alleged, was later used to buy nearly £1m of cocaine, MDMA powder, ecstasy tablets and cannabis and pay for a bungled smuggling attempt, which involved landing the drugs from a yacht near St Catherine.
As is his right, Mr Pearce decided not to give evidence himself but was able to cross-examine witnesses, including police officers, bullion dealers and forensic accountants. He is accused on three occasions in March, April and May of 2019 of accepting money that was dropped off at his Central Market shop, which he then paid into his own business and personal accounts.
The Crown argues that he then bought gold bullion from London dealers. Just days after each order, he flew over to London, picked up his purchase and then resold the gold to another dealer in the same Hatton Garden district.
What happened to the money after that is unknown but the prosecution say it funded the importation attempt in June 2019, which was foiled by one of the most thorough surveillance operations ever undertaken by Jersey Police and Customs officers.
Seven people involved in that attempt - including one man who dropped money off at Darius Pearce Jewellers on two of the three occasions - were sentenced to a total of almost 74 years in prison by the Royal Court this September. They all pleaded guilty to their crimes.
Pictured: Mr Pearce decided not to take the stand.
Without a clear idea of where the money came from or where it disappeared to after the final gold-to-cash conversion, the Crown are largely relying on circumstantial evidence, which they argue - when taken together - makes it clear that Mr Pearce knew that he was in an arrangement that “facilitated the acquisition, use, possession or control of criminal property by or behalf of another person”. It also accuses Mr Pearce of lying by changing his account of what happened in police interviews.
Advocate Maletroit told the Court, which is being presided over by Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith: “Mr Pearce’s business was used by a drug trafficking enterprise to move cash from Jersey to the UK, at the same time that preparations were being made by the criminal enterprise to import drugs.
“Over a long period stretching back to 2016, the defendant would receive large amounts of cash which was used to purchase gold. Once collected, it was converted back to cash.
“There can be little doubt what the objective was. Initially, the defendant authorised UK-based members of the enterprise to collect the gold but after his main dealer ceased trading with him because of their suspicions, the defendant didn’t challenge that decision or change his policies; instead, he started going to London himself.
“On 7 May 2016, the defendant picked up his £25,000 purchase and then sold the gold a few doors down the road for less than the first transaction.
“It made no business sense: he was not replenishing stock or buying gold as an investment for customers. His sole purpose was to move cash from A to B and the defendant knew that because he played a part in every stage of the transaction.
“A criminal enterprise needed a method to move large sums of cash from Jersey to the UK and the defendant willingly provided a professional laundering service which met their needs.”
Mr Pearce denies this.
Jurats Charles Blampied and Jane Ronge are judging the facts of the case.
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